I recently had the pleasure of staying at the Sterling Fern Hill in the pristine hill station of Ooty, in the state of Tamilnadu in India. I had the honor of being invited to the Sterling Achiever’s retreat which was an unconference of like minded people, sharing thoughts on their passion for travel.
This was my second ‘encounter’ with a Sterling property after my time at Sterling Wayanad and to their credit and my pleasure, I had an equally pleasant time and exciting experiences and I apologize for the cliche but I have to say that memories were truly made !!!
Sterling Fern Hill, does not merely dangle a carrot but entices you with entire fields full of carrot, as you approach it on the winding roads of Ooty. Carrot farms on sculpted terraced scapes adjoin the path as you make your final ascent to deliver yourself into its hilly embrace.
Clamber with me onto its undulating landscape, soak in the stunning beauty of its award winning gardens, breathe deeply of its clear air and as always, stay with me as I narrate my story.
About Sterling Holidays –
Sterling Holidays is a major player providing holiday experiences in India. Established in 1986, this 33 year old company spearheaded the concept of Vacation Ownership in the country and currently stands at 33 resorts across 30 destinations.
They now also project themselves as an Experiential holiday company with resorts that are categorized lightly under Forest, Hill Station, Beach, Riverside and Heritage. These options cover activities like safaris, adventure, water sports and even pilgrimages. In short, they have someplace and something for everyone !!!
About Sterling Fern Hill –
This is one of their older resorts which has now been renovated into a spanking new avatar.
At 185 rooms, Sterling Fern Hill has the highest number of rooms among all the Sterling properties. Spread across 7 acres (that seem much larger due to the rolling expanse of land), the resort includes the main building housing the reception, coffee shop, restaurant, bar, travel desk, conference halls and office.
The lawns are well maintained and the garden bursts forth with the hues of brightly colored flowers that are tended to with exceptional care by their long time gardener who also bursts forth with rightful pride at his handiwork that has won innumerable awards in Ooty.
An organic garden grows fresh produce that is also utilized in the in house kitchen.
A model hut of the local Toda tribe forms a point of interest in one corner of the lawns and is an indicator of how strongly Sterling has its focus on preserving the ethnic.
A children’s activity center, an adventure sports area, a store and a spa, complete the amenities.
There is also a 5500 sq ft banquet hall, which is the largest in this region of the Nilgiris.
Of course the stunning and diverse views from all angles are the most remarkable feature of this place and one can revel in scenery that ranges from terraced hills, to tribal hillside hamlets, to pine forests, to tea estates, to distant quaint colonial buildings and even to a glimpse of the toy train tracks.
Features of Sterling Fern Hill –
Rooms are of 4 categories. Classic which accommodates 2 people, studio for 3 people, 1 bedroom for 4 people with a master bed and a sofa cum bed and finally the 2 bedroom apartment which can house 6 people. All the rooms are equipped with basic amenities like microwave, fridge, kettle, utensils and cutlery, toiletries, bed and bath linen etc.
Tall Tales is the coffee shop which is the venue for the high tea or day long snacking.
The Fern is the restaurant where all the main meals are served.
On occasion, barbeques are also arranged on the adjoining lawn.
Our first meal was a specially curated Chettinad spread where Chef Ankur and his team created a bright and traditional ambience in the aura of which we enjoyed our banana leaf lunch. Brinji rice with croutons, flaky parottas, Karaikudi chicken curry, Karuvapallai meen varuval, Chettinad aatu curry etc, were some of the signature dishes on the leaf. The menu was delightfully chalked on a large banana leaf.
The evening High tea also had local snacks like Sukiyan, Dal vada, beetroot bonda etc and care was taken to present them on terracotta chulhas for the rustic effect.
Dinner on the first night was a barbeque by the bonfire, to the accompaniment of entertainment by the All Stars, who were none other than the talented staff of Sterling who sang, danced, made magic and also made us dance (it needs magic to make me dance) 😀
Likewise the second night saw an al fresco dinner accompanied by interactions with the Baduga community and Toda tribes who also entertained us and taught us a dance step or two 😀
Breakfast was a painstaking crafted picnic in a little alcove in the grounds with fruit baskets, juices, local fare like puttu kadala, dosa, Kancheepuram idli, vada and of course all the western trappings including eggs to order. And not just chicken eggs but even quail.
Activities within the resort –
Children’s Activity area –
This area is thoughtfully and intelligently designed and its decor includes wall that are painted with Toda huts and tea estates.
Jigsaw puzzles of the Nilgiri region, table tennis, snooker and a unique hexagonal carrom board to accommodate more family members, are some of the indoor games.
Singing, dance, DJing, art and craft sessions from waste etc are some of the activities for children.
Cricket, snooker and TT competitions between guests and staff help in fostering relationships.
Adventure area –
Get your adrenaline rush on the Burma bridge, sloth walk, swinging bridge, wall climbing and tower climbing activities.
Things to do in the surroundings –
Treks, Tribal village visits, Tea estate experiences, visit to the Lovedale railway station for Toy train rides (which are real train rides :-D), a trip to Ooty town or Coonoor town etc are some of the things that Sterling arranges for its guests.
Since I was there as a part of the group at the Sterling Achiever’s meet for a short 2 days, we were given a few glimpses of the activities that included the trek, a tribal village visit and a brief drive through a tea estate.
Trek – The second morning we left at 6 am to the nearby shola forest via the Cairn Hill Eco Awareness Center. An hour’s trek that finally took us to a viewing tower where we saw what is called ‘the other side of the mountain’ 😀 which in this case was the other side of Ooty.
At that spot one can also see the entrance to the (now boarded up) secret underground passage that supposedly led to Mysore !!!
Some of the trees in this forest are really enormous and make you feel like a dwarf.
A giant Malabar squirrel and a large gaur that was squatting just meters away from us, were our reward for being tenacious trekkers.
Lovedale station –
A quaint station and tourist attraction, this is a part of the Nilgiri Mountain Railway and one of the stops for the Ooty passenger train. This was built in 1908 and is declared to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The train passes through at 2 fixed times in a day and hence the tracks were safe for a bit of drama where we enacted Bollywood style scenes and of course punned with my name. CaRail’ine if you please.
Kota village tour –
The Kotas are a reclusive tribe and usually keep to themselves. Kotagiri is where they have their head village. There are only 7 villages and a population of 2000 of them left. They do not marry outside their community. Most of the places in their village are out of bounds for outsiders.
With Sterling as our guide, we managed to visit them and also get our pictures with them.
Tea estate –
Due to lack of time we did not have the entire tea trail experience but we did have a highly exciting meeting with the Sterling big wigs on a helipad 6000 ft above msl, atop one of the tea estates in the region. This Korakundah estate also boasts of being the highest commercial tea estate in the world, going up to 8000 ft above msl.
Toda village tour –
We had a quick tour of a Toda tribal village, just before departing on the last day. We had the pleasure of interacting with Pingleamma, a revered elder of the tribe who draped us in the Poothkuli, a typical red and black embroidered shawl and also sang for us in a mixture of several languages including english and hindi 😀 This was a great moment to cherish.
Internet and phone connectivity –
Phone signals are mostly good through out the region and the resort also has Wi Fi facility for its guests.
Best time to visit –
Ooty is a year round destination and any time is good. Winters are chilly of course but the peak season is from March to June when the weather is optimal.
July to September brings the rains which have their own beauty and do attract pluviophiles.
October to February is winter with temperatures going as low as 5 deg c.
Visitor profile –
The Sterling focus is naturally on families and that includes young children and also elderly folk.
Sterling Fern Hill is also open for corporate events and is also a sought after wedding venue.
Getting there –
Sterling Fern Hill is around 100 km from Coimbatore International airport. Note that the journey by road from Coimbatore is via ghat section and could take between 3 – 4 hours.
The nearest railway stations are at Lovedale and Ooty. These are a part of the Nilgiri mountain rail which starts from Mettupalayam at 7.10 am and reaches Ooty at 12 pm via Coonoor and sets off on its return journey at 2 pm to reach Mettupalyam at around 6.30 pm. The train is scheduled to connect to the Nilgiri express, which runs from Mettupalayam to Chennai via Coimbatore.
Please check train timings online. It is preferable to get off at Ooty rather than Lovedale, since connectivity is better to the surrounding areas.
Mettuplayam is 30 km from Coimbatore and is connected by road and rail.
The nearest bus stand to Fern Hill is at Ooty, 5 km away and is also close to the railway station. Buses are available from Coimbatore to Ooty.
The resort will arrange for cab pick up from the airport, railway station etc, on pre booking. Cabs are also available 24/7 from Ooty to the resort.
My journey from Bangalore –
I flew by the 7.15 am Indigo airlines from Bangalore to reach Coimbatore by 8 am.
Coimbatore’s Peelamedu International airport is neat and clean and the decor is very local with bulls and elephants that one tends to pose alongside.
We were received by Richard the tour manager of Sterling Fernhill, who whisked us away to a quick breakfast at the iconic Annapoorna, after which we left in the van to Ooty.
The Sterling experience continued en route with Richard giving us a very local taste of the Palm fruit that is eaten in a very unique way in the region.
The palmyra leaves are first woven to create a receptacle. The edible soft kernel is extracted with a sharp scythe and then deposited into the leaf. On this is poured a cup full of the sweet Palm sap and one has to drink/eat directly from the leaf. The sap is extracted on a daily basis from the tip of the inflorescence and collected in a pot smeared with lime extract (choona/calcium hydroxide) to prevent fermentation into alcohol (the palm sugar that you must have heard of, is obtained from this sap).
Well this was very exciting for me since I love unusual food encounters … speaking of which, we also posed for other unusual encounters with the scythe 😀
The 100 km journey takes around 3-4 hours in a large vehicle and after one tea and pee stop half way through at Kattery gardens, we proceeded to reach Fern Hill at 1 pm via Coonoor.
Likewise our return drive that began at 9.30 am, took us to Coimbatore at 1 pm and we had a quick lunch at Kanappa (Chettinad cuisine) to reach the airport at 1.30 pm in time to check in to our 2.30 pm Indigo flight to Bangalore.
Be aware that the mountain roads are fraught with the danger of road blocks from fallen trees or accidents that can greatly delay you. Hence factor that in while setting out to the airport/railway station/bus stand. We had one such road block that was fortunately communicated by the Sterling’s ‘secret service’ 😀 Hence we took an alternate route via Kotagiri because of which we were able to visit this charming little place called Tea County that also had the most delicious and addictive varkey, a crisp, flaky biscuit.
Booking and contact –
Address of Sterling Fern Hill –
73, Kundah House Road, Fern Hill, Ooty, Tamil Nadu 643004
Email for general enquiries – email@example.com
Feb 28th – Mar 2nd, 2019
Please Note – I was invited to Sterling Fern Hill, Ooty and I thank them for their warm hospitality. The narrative is based on the inputs that I received from various sources as well as my own experiences.